Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Sixty : History bites back


Tuesday morning — 6:15 a.m.
Denver, Colorado

“I don’t know Russian,” Delphie said to something near Ivan.

Ivan was sitting in a comfortable chair in a private sitting area near Delphie’s bed. Delphie was sitting with her back to an antique desk. Ivy sat cross-legged on the rug at Delphie’s feet. For the last several minutes, Delphie had been speaking to something or someone Ivan couldn’t see. The door to the apartment opened.

“There are a variety of undead here today,” Jacob announced as he walked in. “They say that they belong to you. Rather than sending them on, I thought I’d …”

Seeing Ivan, Jacob stopped short. Ivan looked at Jacob. It was a good long moment before Delphie looked up.

“Oh good, you’re here,” Delphie said. “I sent them to find you.”

“Why?” Jacob asked.

“I don’t speak Russian,” Delphie said.

“And I do?” Jacob asked.

“No, but I can’t be them and me at the same time,” Delphie said. “Ivy’s too young.”

Jacob gave Delphie a disgusted look.

“I almost never ask,” Delphie said. “When was the last time? And you can do it with no problem. It just runs against your whole ‘I hate ghosts’ bullshit.”

“Bullshit?” Jacob asked. His eyebrows rose with indignation. “My bullshit? Do I need to remind you that …?”

“Motto,” Delphie said. “And no, you don’t need to remind me. This is Ivan’s family. He hasn’t spoken to them in at least a decade. His sister is …”

Jacob raised a hand.

“And if I don’t?” Jacob asked.

“What is she asking you to do?” Ivan asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Jacob said.

“I can …” Ivan started.

“No,” Jacob and Delphie said in unison.

Jacob gave Delphie a hard look. Delphie sighed.

“Jacob hates ghosts because his body is an almost perfect vessel that spirits can inhabit. They leave no damage to his body or soul,” Delphie said. “When he was little, they lived in this horrible tenement. He could, and would, send the ghosts to the other side. His mother and I thought it was mean to just send them off without hearing them out so …”

Jacob nodded in agreement to what Delphie had said.

“We over used his ability,” Delphie said. “It was our fault really. We were fascinated with lost ghost and … Anyway, Jacob stopped helping us and started sending spirits to the other side before we could do anything to stop him.”

Delphie’s face wrinkled up.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t very nice of us,” Delphie said.

“Like having ghosts tell me of your plans today?” Jacob asked. “I do have plans for the day.”

“You can afford to help Ivan,” Delphie said.

Jacob groaned and rolled his eyes like a little kid. Ivy laughed. Jacob winked at the girl and turned back to Delphie.

“Fine,” Jacob said.

“Listen, I really don’t want to …” Ivan got up from his seat.

“I happy to help. You.” Jacob said. “Not her.”

Jacob shook his head and Delphie laughed.

“Ready?” Delphie asked.

Jacob nodded. Jacob closed his eyes and let out a breath. It took a moment but when he opened his eyes, they could all see that he was someone else. When he opened his mouth, he spoke Russian.

“Ivan, my brother.” The voice from Jacob’s mouth was feminine and spoke in fast Russian.

“Sister,” Ivan whispered.

“You have long blamed yourself for what happened to me,” Ivan’s sister said.

“It was my fault,” Ivan said. “My desire to be in the ballet to …”

Jacob held up a hand and Ivan stopped talking.

“It was no one’s fault,” Ivan’s sister said in Russian. “It was something that happened — to you, to me, our parents. It was about the time, as much as it was about us.”

“If I …” Ivan started.

“Did you know that I knew them — the men who did this to us — before all of this happened?” Ivan’s sister asked.

“No,” Ivan said. “No, you didn’t.”

“I did,” Ivan’s sister said. “I knew dated the son of …”

She said a name but it was slurred. Ivan nodded as if he knew who she’d meant.

“He grew tired of me wanting to be something other than his play thing,” Ivan’s sister said. “That is how you and I ended up in our respective roles. I didn’t love him. Not as much as he loved me. That is true. I wanted to use him to become a nurse, to help you achieve your dreams in the ballet. He wanted me to have what I wanted so he talked to his father. Papa saw right through me in an instant. He took me for his own, and then made me work for him. Sleep with this man for information. Find this other man. Go to this restaurant and go home with this target, take pictures, and send them to him. He needed someone at the Bolshoi so he arranged for your audition. I was already his whore when you had your audition. I tried to tell you not to audition but …”

Ivan scowled for a moment. Her voice seemed to falter in his scowl. After a moment, he gave a slow nod.

“I remember,” he said.

Ivan fell silent. A wave of energy pulsed through him like a seizure.

“This is all bullshit,” Ivan said in English. He pointed to Delphie. “You making all of this up.”

“Brother, your hairband is too tight,” Ivan’s sister said.

Ivan’s head jerked to look at Jacob. His mouth fell open and tears streamed down his face. For a long minute, no one moved. Understanding the emotion of this interation, Delphie and Ivy’s eyes never left Ivan’s face.

“What happened to the son?” Ivan asked.

“Overdose,” Ivan’s sister said. “He was one of many sons from many women. I don’t believe his father even cared. I did. But it was too late for me.”

Ivan nodded.

“I have never left your side, brother,” Ivan’s sister said. “I was there in the gulag. This woman, this Oracle, found you through me. It was me that saved your beloved from the bullets. It was me that moved the knife just one millimeter over.”

Ivan’s hands went to his face.

“I will be there every moment of every day so that you live this life, brother,” Ivan’s sister said. “Don’t waste your life on shame and sorrow for those who are long gone. Live fully …”

“Because you can’t,” Ivan said.

“Yes,” Ivan’s sister said. “I have to say — I think you should marry this Sissy. She’s good for you.”

Ivan chuckled.

“She makes you laugh,” Ivan’s sister said. “And she doesn’t put up with your crap. You must let her love you. Allow your heart to open.”

Ivan gave his sister a vague nod.

“I know,” Ivan’s sister said. “Always so bossy.”

“Exactly,” Ivan said with a grin.

“Mama, wants to speak to you, brother,” Ivan’s sister said.

“I wish you were here,” Ivan said. “I am truly sorry.”

“Yes, I am too,” Ivan’s sister said. “I am sorry I am not there to tell you how full of shit you are.”

Ivan laughed.

“I love you, brother,” Ivan’s sister said. “Here is our mother.”

What happened next was indescribable. Jacob’s entire body seemed to rearrange into the shape of an elderly matron. He opened his mouth and began to speak. Every time Ivan opened his mouth, the matron cut him off. Jacob spoke so fast that Ivan was fixated on Jacob’s face. The barrage of language ended abruptly, and Jacob Lipson returned.

“How’d we do?” Jacob asked.

Ivan was too caught up in whatever his mother had said to respond.

“Nicely,” Delphie said. She waved Jacob away. “We have much to discuss.”

Shaking his head at Delphie, Jacob left the apartment. For a moment, no one moved.

“What now?” Ivan asked.

“We work with what you learned,” Delphie said. “What have you learned?”


Tuesday morning — 9:05 a.m.
New York City, New York

“So, RJ says…” Seth said.

“Hi, R.J., how are you?” Claire asked, as she rounded the corner from her kitchen. She gave Seth a cup of coffee. “It’s nice to see you. Did you come or the funeral?”

Claire gave him a cup of coffee. R.J. opened his mouth to speak.

“He came to prevent my funeral,” Seth said. “My funeral! Can you believe it?”

Claire took away his coffee cup and set it down on the coffee table. Seth blinked at her. She nodded toward R.J.

“What’s going on, R.J.?” Claire asked.

Seth raised his eyes to the ceiling and Claire laughed. R.J. looked at Seth and then at Claire.

“You all haven’t changed much,” R.J. said.

Claire and Seth smiled. R.J. grinned at them. Claire sat down on her couch and gestured to the chairs. Seth and R.J. sat down.

“I didn’t come to the funeral because there’s some folks who aren’t so good for me,” R.J. said. “But I got a call from one of the guys who worked for Big Daddy. You know, when we was all here. He told me that … Well … Were you aware that Bud had a child by another woman?”

“Not specifically.” Seth shook his head.

R.J. looked at Claire and she shook her head.

“It doesn’t surprise me, though,” Seth said.

Claire nodded.

“Di always said that what happened on the road was left on the road,” Claire said. “I doubt that she was all that faithful when he was gone either. She was very much the ‘what’s good for the gander is twice as good for the goose.’ She was also a very beautiful woman, even when we knew her.”

Seth nodded in agreement.

“Bud didn’t know it either,” R.J. said. “She came out of the woodwork when Bud died. She wanted a piece of Bud’s estate but there…”

“Bud didn’t have anything,” Seth said with a shrug. “In those days, they didn’t keep track of who was on the records. If you were a musician, you’d get a day’s wages from the recording studio. That was enough for Bud.”

“Di had the money,” Claire said with a nod. “Big Daddy used her money to create his empire.”

“That’s the problem,” R.J. said. “She thinks that she was due some of Big Daddy’s estate and that Seth cheated her out of it.”

“Why Seth?” Claire asked.

“She says that her dad helped Seth with songs, but Seth never gave him credit,” R.J. said. “Seth made all the dough that should be hers. She figured it was over when Di died, but now that Seth’s stolen her portion of Big Daddy’s estate she’s raring mad. She will only be satisfied with Seth’s death.”

“Does she have a portion of the estate?” Claire asked.

“All portions of Big Daddy’s estate are passed out or ready to be passed out soon enough,” Seth said. “Most went to the Feds. Bernice was able to keep what came from her parents plus interest. Her kids got a percentage of Big Daddy’s real estate. The rest was from illegal activities so it went to whichever Federal agency’s jurisdiction applied — DEA, IRS, whatever. There was no indication of another child, especially not another child of Bud’s.”

“Should we ask Bernice?” Claire asked.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” R.J. asked. “What does Bernice know?”

“We can ask her,” Claire said.

“I don’t know,” R.J. said with a shake of his head. “Big Daddy didn’t want any of this to ever touch her or her life.”

“That doesn’t mean it didn’t,” Claire said. “Bernice knows more than you’d think.”

“She does?” Seth and R.J. said in unison.

There was movement behind them and Bernice came into the room. Her appearance had the same effect that it had all those years ago. The men stepped back and she walked past them to the kitchen. While she no longer wore the thick slip that made her skirt rustle, she held an air of beauty and power that induce respect. She poured herself a cup of coffee, got some creamer, and came out into Claire’s sitting area.

“You remember that Bernice is staying with me,” Claire said. “Until her apartment is ready.”

“Sorry,” Seth and R.J. mumbled in almost unison.

Bernice laughed at them.

“I guess I didn’t realize you two had spent so much time together,” Bernice said. She nodded and smiled. “How are you, Robert James?”

She held out her arms and they gave each other a brief hug.

“You weren’t here for the funeral,” Bernice said.

“No, ma’am,” R.J. said.

“I understand,” Bernice said. “I’d probably make the same choice. How is your wife? Family?”

“Everybody’s good,” R.J. said. “I was worried ’bout Seth.”

After a moment, he added, “Ma’am.”

“You were worried about Seth because of Wilma,” Bernice said.

She nodded to R.J. and then looked at Seth.

“Have you met Wilma?” Bernice asked.

Seth shook his head. Bernice grinned at him.

“You may have grey hair but your head is permanently in music, isn’t it?” Bernice asked with a smile.

Seth opened his mouth to protest. From the moment he’d heard that Big Daddy had died to this moment, he’d worked every connection, every friend, every relative to make sure that this woman didn’t end up in jail or worse. He blinked.

“I’m sorry did you say something?” Seth asked. “My head was in music.”

Bernice laughed. She hugged Seth.

“Thank you for all you’ve done for me and Big Daddy,” Bernice said.

“Of course,” Seth said. “My pleasure.”

She moved away to sit on the couch next to Claire.

“When did I meet Wilma?” Seth asked.

“She was at the funeral,” Bernice said. “I saw her talking to Sandy. Have you asked Sandy about her?”

Seth shook her head.

“Seth was held hostage most of yesterday,” R.J. said.

“You think Wilma did that?” Bernice asked.

“We don’t know,” Seth said.

Bernice nodded. To avoid their questions, she looked down and drank her coffee.

“Well,” Bernice said. She looked up at Seth and R.J, and then turned her head to look at Claire. “I guess it’s time for me to get involved.”

“Involved in what?” Seth asked.

Bernice looked at him for a long time. Rather than respond, she got up from the couch and went into Claire’s guest bedroom. Claire, Seth, and R.J. watched her disappear into the room. She returned with a full manila envelope. The envelope was old, worn thin in places in the creases made around the heavy contents. There was something scrawled across the front of the envelope. Bernice held it out to Seth. He looked down at the envelope.

“Seth” was scrawled across the envelope in Di’s handwriting. Seth looked up at Bernice and saw that she was watching his face.

“You don’t know what this is,” Bernice said.

Seth shook his head. Bernice gestured with the envelope and Seth took it from her.

“I found it when my mother died. I’ve never been through it,” Bernice said.

Seth gave her a vague nod.

“Susan told me not to give it to you,” Bernice said. “You were in love with Andy and finishing that horrible college and then you left the city and met Mitch, went to Vietnam, and Andy had Sandy, and all of that.”

Bernice swallowed against the pain in those years of Seth’s life.

“Big Daddy said it was best to leave the past alone,” Bernice said. She lifted her shoulders in a quick shrug. “Seems like the past isn’t the past anymore.”

“What is it?” Seth asked.

“What is what?” Bernice asked.

“If the past isn’t the past, what is it?” R.J. asked.

“Look at yourself,” Bernice said. She nodded to him and sat down next to Claire. “You’re here in New York with Seth. I’m here. Claire. We’re here in this building. When was the last time we were all together like this?”

Seth and R.J. looked down at the ground. Claire gave Bernice a kind look.

“Seems to me like the past has returned for us to clean up the mess our beloved friends weren’t able to,” Bernice said with a nod.

Seth blew out a heavy breath and turned to leave.

“No you don’t,” Bernice said. “You are not going to leave me out like I’m the stupid woman.”

Seth turned around to look at her.

“I …” Seth started.

“Yes, you were,” Bernice said with a sniff. “Here, me and Claire were making everything work for you and you were going to head out. How do you really think my husband kept himself alive? How do you think you were held captive and aren’t dead your own damned self?”

“I didn’t mean to insult you.” Seth started.

“I know,” Bernice said. “I’m just saying that, now that Big Daddy’s gone, well, and you worked out all that stuff with the government, I want to be involved in my own life, not sheltered like some dumb song bird.”

Seth took a breath which made his cheeks puff out.

“What?” Bernice asked.

“Song bird?” Seth asked with a squint of his left eye. “Dumb?”

Bernice laughed. Claire smiled. R.J. nodded and took out a cigarette.

“You are sadly mistaken if you think you’re going to smoke that here,” Claire said.

“Yes, ma’am,” R.J. said.

“And anyway, your wife called to tell me that you quit,” Claire said. R.J. looked at the cigarette. “More than twenty years ago.”

R.J. gave Claire a guilty nod. Claire held out her hand and R.J. put the cigarette in it. She kept holding out her hand until he put the pack in her hand.

“Thank you,” Claire said.

“If that’s it, I’ll …” Seth said.

“Pour it out here,” Claire said. “We’ll get through it faster if we do it together.”

She nodded to Bernice and they cleared off the coffee table. Seth opened the manila envelope. He tipped it onto the table and the contents slid out. Claire pushed the contents of the manila envelope to spread it out. He looked into the envelope and pulled out a card. He read the card. When he looked up, they were looking at him.

“Di says that …” Seth said. “I guess we have some work to do.”

“Then we better get to it,” Bernice said. “I know that I’m not getting any younger.”

Seth nodded. R.J. dropped to his knees to look through the material. Not sure how to get involved, Seth stood on the sidelines for a moment.

“Call Sandy,” Claire said.

“Sandy?” Seth asked.

“Sandy,” Claire said. “Bernice said that Wilma talked to Sandy. Let’s find out what Sandy knows.”

Bernice looked up at him and nodded. She held out her hand and Seth put the card into it. Taking out his cell phone, he called Sandy.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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